Patriot Act and First Amendment Analysis

Introduction

About six weeks after the September 11th attack, Congress passed a bill to protect the American citizens from a recurrence of similar attacks. Accordingly, the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act also abbreviated as USA PATRIOT Act 2001 was passed by Congress. However, this Act has been marred with controversies. Several organizations and institutions have ganged up against it arguing that the Act contravenes the specifications of liberties of the American citizens. What, therefore, were the specifications in this Act that made it become a subject of debate between several institutions? This paper will answer this question and also point out the implications of the Act on the communication rights of American citizens.

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Areas included in the Act

The USA PATRIOT Act 2001 received overwhelming support from both the Republicans and the Democrats during its passage in 2001. This happened amid emotions because several innocent Americans had lost their lives at the twin towers. In its entirety, the Act, which was drafted by the Department of Justice and got some modifications from the Congress, gives the officials more power in their effort to track and punish the perpetrators of such attacks and also protect the citizens from becoming victims of similar attacks (Doyle i). The areas of focus in this Act include tracing and intercepting communications that are suspected to contain terrorist motives. This is done to enforce the law and also enhancing foreign intelligence. In addition, the Act focuses on tightening anti-money laundering laws and regulations. This is aimed at denying the terrorists the chance to access such vital financial resources that would promote more attacks. The Act further touches on border security by tightening the immigration laws. This is important in that it keeps terrorists away from the American boundaries and also makes sure that the terrorists that dwell within the boundaries are expelled. Finally, the Act brings into existence new laws that did not exist initially. These new laws include terming attacks on mass transit by terrorists an outlaw activity, increasing penalties for other existent laws, and finally making changes on the procedural activities concerning terrorism activities.

Amendments

This Act has also had some amendments due to its controversial nature. For example, in 2006, legislation to make most of the USA PATRIOT Act 2001 provisions was authorized by the Senate. In the amended Act, some of the sunset provisions that were about to expire were given a new lease of life. In addition, there were limitations on the provisions that affected the liberties of the Americans. Among the provisions that were affected during this amendment was the reduction of the authority to cease financial documents by the FBI. It also included the restrictions on the FBI’s authority to cease other business records (Eggen par. 5). Later in 2009, the Act received more amendments under the Obama administration. Although several controversial provisions were supposed to expire at the end of that year, all of them were renewed. Very limited reforms were made during this amendment. Among the reforms were restrictions on the government’s authority concerning the National Security Letters (NSLs). The amendments called upon the government to ensure that the records obtained from NSLs are made as minimal as possible (Bankston par. 4).

The controversial part concerning communication rights

However, not every provision of this Act has an impact on the communicative justice of American citizens. While the Act is comprised of no less than 150 sections including 15 amendments on existent federal statutes, four provisions form the most contagious specifications concerning the communicative justice of Americans. These four parts include section 206 which gives officials the ability to use “roving wiretaps” in the process of monitoring electronic communications during terrorism investigations. In addition, secret court orders can be given to officials to intercept electronic communications during the same process of investigations. Secondly, sections 214 and 216 offer another impediment to communication rights and laws. These two sections extend the authority of monitoring telephone conversations to include “…routing and addressing information for Internet traffic” provided the information is suspected to be terrorist (Kranich par.4). Finally, section 215 warrants the FBI and other relevant law enforcement authorities the authority to search educational, bookstores, businesses, libraries, and medical records under the pretext that the records are being searched because of their link to a terrorism investigation.

The implications

What implications have these specifications had on the communication rights of individuals? In her argument, Kranich (par. 6) shows that this Act has exposed the most private of information to enforcement officials who have the warrant to search even the most private researches and readings and who also are allowed to intercept communications. This further allows the enforcement officials to “…violate the privacy and confidentiality rights” of library and bookstore users (par. 6). This is not all. The Act is also controversial in that through its stipulations, constitutional checks and balances are left meaningless as the enforcement agencies are given the power of which they may use to gather the information that has no link with any criminal investigation. The checks and balances in question include the constitutional requirements for a search warrant. Consequently, the powers given to the enforcement agencies allow them to go beyond the requirements and hence demolishes the checks and balance wall. Finally, she argues that the Act will hinder the democratic benefits of democracy by making the citizens live in fear of doing things they used to freely do.

The above are among the fears that anti-USA PATRIOT Act activists had. Sadly, most of them have come to pass. Many Americans have been subjected to unfair treatment as a result of these speculations. Study shows that more than 200 public libraries had been approached by law enforcement agencies and forced to offer information. This number is however inaccurate considering the stipulations of section 215 of the Act that prohibits the communication of information after a search by law enforcement agencies (Kranich par. 8). In another case on April 17, 2003, Kranich quotes the FW Weekly which reported a former public defender in New Mexico who was arrested by the authorities and underwent a five-hour interrogation. This happened after he had had a stint on the computer at Santa Fe Academic Library. With such activities, Congress will be forced to make more amendments to be able to avoid subjecting innocent Americans to such sad happenings.

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Conclusion

In conclusion, the USA PATRIOT Act 2001, though meant to protect the citizens from terrorist attacks, brought with it several weaknesses. This includes the impediments to the civil liberties of the citizens which the activists had feared. However, some of the fears had come true. The government will therefore be forced to make more amendments so that citizens are not subjected to such activities that limit their liberties.

Works Cited

Bankston, Kevin. “Obama Sides with Republicans; Patriot Act Renewal Bill Passes.

Senate Judiciary Committee Minus Critical Civil Liberties Reforms.” 2009. Web.

Doyle, Charles. “The USA PATRIOT Act: A Legal Analysis.” Congressional Research Service. 2002. Web.

Eggen, Dan. “Senate Approves Partial Renewal of Patriot Act.” The Washington Post Online. 2009. Web.

Kranich, Nancy. “The Impact of the USA PATRIOT Act on Free Expression.” Free Expression Policy Project. 2003. Web.

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